The historian-doctor continues his exploration of the life of Jesus by following the events after the baptism. Jesus goes up from the Jordan and into the wilderness. While there, He fasts and is led around in the Spirit for forty days. As those days draw to a close, the devil comes to tempt Him. This is a well-known story which covers three temptations of Jesus.
We see three primary temptations put before Him during this time. They cover major aspects of ministry: be flashy and use your power to satisfy your desires; direct worship in the wrong direction and rule wrongly over others; put God to the test and see if He really delivers. Each of these had a major significance in the life of Jesus and they also could affect the typical minister and Christian who follows after Him.
Jesus then proceeds to Nazareth, His hometown, and enters the synagogue to teach.
Here another temptation presents itself: please His religious audience by pulling punches. As He stands in front of the typical group in Nazareth, the people who have known Him the whole time, He takes up the scroll for the day’s reading.
The scroll holds the writings of the prophet Isaiah. Jesus finds written there the words of Isaiah 61:1-2 about the workings of the Gospel. The prophet speaks of one who has the Spirit of the Lord, coming to proclaim freedom from captivity, sight for the blind, and the favorable year of the Lord.
This is truly good news.
Let us now take this and look at how Jesus dealt with temptation. First, though, see this: each of these incidents is temptation, from the devil in the wilderness to the friends in the synagogue. Each of these moments was a threat to following through with why He came, because at its core all temptation is the same.
All temptation is an effort to move our decision-making from What has God commanded? to What seems like a good idea at the time? No matter what skin the temptation puts on, that is the beating heart of it. This increases the challenge to recognize temptation, but simplifies the response. The response is always the same:
A heavy application of God’s Word. This is how Jesus responded to each of the devil's stunts: Scripture. Nazareth’s questions? Scripture. Their complaints? More Scripture (specifically, narrative portions of Scripture, contrary to some who would claim those stories are not valuable for instruction.)
Practically speaking, we need to back up one step in dealing with temptation. As people, we need the presence of the Holy Spirit to deal with temptation, and we only have that if we have a relationship with God through Jesus—but Jesus came on the scene with that intact. So we do not see Him needing to start that relationship by confessing sin and turning in repentance. We do.
From there, we follow the same path. Recognize temptation for what it is: a decision between What has God commanded? and What seems like a good idea at the time? If there is any decision of this nature, then you are facing temptation.
Drop back to what you know of the Word of God. What has God commanded? What has God done? How can you walk with Him?
For this, we have to know the Word. We must know Jesus, and we must read and grow in our knowledge of the Holy One. It may be that all you remember is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength…but that alone is often enough! How often does temptation push us to use who we are for something less than God?
Well, there’s lots of nerd ideas in a good chapter like this. First off, there is the question of the synagogue reading. The tradition was that the men would take turns reading, and they simply picked up where the last one left off on their day. So, does Jesus just happen to have His turn on this day, and happen to be at Isaiah 61? Or does He choose the passage rather than read what’s given Him, and He’s asked to read out of turn because He’s back in town?
Another nerd-observation is where Jesus stops in reading. He leaves off the phrase “And the day of vengeance of our God;” which is the next line in Isaiah 61:2. I would suggest to you that there’s a reason for that.
The day of the vengeance of our God was still coming, but it came at the Cross. It came on Jesus. He already knew about that day—others needed to know about the Good News before it happened.